Aug 31, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

⛱️ Happy Saturday. Fingers crossed for our friends and readers on the Southeast coast who're having their holiday plans spoiled by Dorian.

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  • Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,198 words ... ~ 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Two Americas, tuning each other out
Expand chart
Data: Google. Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The country's polarization now extends to entertainment television, Axios' Shane Savitsky writes.

  • Why it matters: Americans used to have only a few TV options, producing mass-culture moments like The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the "Who shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas," and the "M*A*S*H" finale.
  • But just as social media exacerbated our tribalization, the rise of cable and streaming services has created a wealth of content — increasingly targeted and niche — that has become part of our cultural splintering.

The state of play: You can see the split by the geographic schisms in Google interest in two programs — HBO's "Succession" and USA's live wrestling "WWE Raw" — which both air weekly to similarly-sized audiences.

  • "Succession," a comedy-drama about the machinations of a Murdoch-y family running a media conglomerate, kicked off its second season this month with constant coverage in the fancy press (see the N.Y. Times' "The Making of Wealth Porn") and a slew of awards nominations. Its search interest is highest on the coasts and in the priciest cities in the U.S., New York and San Francisco.
  • "Raw," the wrestling extravaganza in its 26th season, hasn't had a mention in The Times in the past year, even as it had the second-most social media interactions per episode of any TV series in 2018, according to Nielsen. And its search interest is decidedly clustered in the Rust Belt and the South — prime Trump country.

Traditional network shows also face this same divide, according to a SurveyMonkey poll for Business Insider.

  • "Last Man Standing," Tim Allen's unabashedly conservative Fox comedy series, was listed by 65% of conservatives as one of their five favorite shows — and 0% of liberals.
  • NBC's "The Good Place," a philosophy-heavy comedic look at the afterlife, was a top-fiver for 59% of liberals, but just 6% of conservatives.
  • Last year's ill-fated reboot of "Roseanne" on ABC — now spun off as "The Conners" following its titular star's racist Twitter tirade — was the rare show that tried to bridge the political divide, briefly becoming the highest-rated sitcom in years when it first premiered, per The Hollywood Reporter.

The big picture: Week after week, the list of the most-watched shows on cable television is dominated by Fox News — with a few appearances by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — highlighting how political punditry so often functions as entertainment in Americans' media diets.

  • The space is so lucrative that Fox News launched its own streaming service last year, which includes entertainment programming centered on its pundits, like a cooking show featuring "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy.

The bottom line: This trend will accelerate as more and more streaming services with their own cloistered libraries spin up, highlighted by the launch of Disney+ later this year.

2. Trump's revealing tweet
Image: @realDonaldTrump

President Trump tweeted a high-reso image of the aftermath of a mysterious explosion at an Iranian space center, "raising questions about whether he had plucked a classified image from his morning intelligence briefing to troll the Iranians," the N.Y. Times' David E. Sanger and Bill Broad write.

  • Maybe a first for a photo credit in The New York Times: "President Trump, via Twitter."
  • Trump's text: "The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One."

Why it matters, from the WashPost: "The image ... is almost certainly highly classified, experts said, and bears markings that resemble those made by intelligence analysts."

  • The photo "appears to show a camera flash and a person’s shadow, leading to speculation that Trump or one of his aides may have snapped a picture of the image using a cellphone," the Post says.

Asked about the photo by reporters on the South Lawn, Trump said: "I just wish Iran well. They had a big problem. And we had a photo. And I released it, which I have the absolute right to do."

  • Asked where it came from, he said: "You’ll have to figure that one out yourself."

For contrast with the U.S. spy shot, here's a commercial satellite view:

Planet Labs, Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP
3. Trump forgives ousted aide
President Trump leaves the Oval Office yesterday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump said he considered the ouster of his personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, to be virtually "automatic" after he found out about comments she made during an off-the-record dinner with reporters.

  • Trump, speaking yesterday on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One, told reporters that Westerhout had called him moments earlier and "was very upset — she was down."
  • Trump tweeted this morning: "While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her!"

Westerhout, whose access to the White House was revoked Thursday, made the off-the-record remarks at a dinner with reporters who were covering him during this month's summer break in New Jersey.

  • "Everything she said was off the record," Trump told reporters. "And that still doesn’t really cover for her. She mentioned a couple of things about my children."
  • "I think the press is very dishonest because it was supposed to be off the record," he added. "But, still, you don’t say things like she said, which were just a little bit hurtful to some people."

Asked about a report by Politico about the contents of Westerhout's dish, Trump said the idea that he didn't want to be photographed with Tiffany Trump, his youngest daughter, was "just absolutely false."

  • "Tiffany is great," he said. "I love Tiffany. ...I look forward to talking to her."

Why it matters: Westerhout, whose title was director of Oval Office operations, sat right outside the Oval Office, and had unique visibility into the president's calls, visitors and correspondence.

  • She was one of very few West Wing officials who had been there from Day 1.

The president said Westerhout told him she had been drinking at the dinner.

  • "She’s a very ... good person," Trump said. "I always felt she did a good job. ... ... I really think she had a bad night. ... And I wish her well."
  • "[T]he press breaks off-the-records all the time because they are very dishonorable. Many of them. Not all of you, but many of them are very dishonorable."
4. Pic du jour
Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP

Above, a sea turtle nest is cordoned off on South Beach, Miami, as bands of rain pour in.

Hurricane Dorian has gained fearsome new muscle as an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm, bearing down on the northwestern Bahamas en route to Florida's east coast, AP reports.

  • Dorian will threaten the Florida peninsula late Monday or early Tuesday.
  • Meteorologists remain unsure whether Dorian will make a direct strike or glancing blow.
Bonus: Where Dems will stand in Houston debate
Courtesy ABC News

Now three hours!

5. How U.S. tech depends on China

Here's Apple's supply-chain data analyzed by Reuters:

🇭🇰 Breaking: "Hong Kong police used water cannons to spray blue-dyed water at defiant protesters, who lobbed firebombs at them." (Bloomberg)

6. 1 cub thing
Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via Getty Images

A Siberian tiger cub licks an ice cake with meat at the zoo in Hanover, Germany.

Mike Allen

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